Quip mashes up documents and spreadsheets

The startup opted to combine spreadsheet software with its word processing app

Quip is pushing ahead with its plan to turn the mobile and cloud productivity software market on its head, adding spreadsheet capabilities to its namesake app, which until now had been limited to documents.

Instead of building a suite of separate productivity apps, a la Microsoft Office, Quip plans to have a single "canvas" where it will incorporate different features and functionality, including presentation software capabilities later.

Thus, the Quip product, which is designed for workplace collaboration, now lets users include spreadsheets within a word processing document, and if changes are made to cell values and formulas, those numbers are automatically updated where they are referenced in the text portions.

"We didn't think spreadsheets should be separate from the other apps," said Quip co-founder Bret Taylor.

With this approach, Quip users don't have to be cutting and pasting spreadsheets into documents and presentations, and checking that the pasted worksheets are current with any changes made later on to the originals.

The new spreadsheet capabilities are woven into the overall Quip user experience, which emphasizes multi-user, concurrent online and offline collaboration, along with native messaging, chat, commenting and push notification features.

"Communication is key to productivity software, so our product is completely oriented around communication," said Taylor, a former Facebook CTO, co-founder of FriendFeed and group product manager at Google, where he co-created Google Maps.

Taylor claims that the Quip spreadsheet tool is more sophisticated than Google Sheets, but not as extensive in its feature set as Microsoft's Excel. However, Quip will continue to beef up its spreadsheet features and narrow the Excel gap, he said.

Still, he doesn't expect Excel power users to abandon that Microsoft app right now. Rather, Quip is aiming for financial analyst types who have to work on spreadsheets in order to prepare reports. The Quip integrated approach will appeal to them, Taylor predicts.

For people used to working in a traditional spreadsheet interface, Quip offers them the option to launch a full-screen worksheet, and then embed it within the broader document, and toggle between the two modes.

There is complete feature parity between Quip's browser-based version and its native iOS and Android apps.

While Quip is trying to innovate and build a better mousetrap in the market for cloud and mobile productivity apps, its two main rivals are Microsoft and Google, two Goliaths with massive resources and enormous user bases for its respective suites, so the odds aren't in the startup's favor.

Quip was launched in mid-2013 and its product is in use in about 5,000 companies, including Facebook and its Instagram unit, software analytics vendor New Relic and Utah conglomerate Larry H. Miller. Hundreds of thousands of people have used Quip to create millions of documents so far, according to the company. Quip has about 20 employees and raised US$15 million in Series A funding.

The product is free for up to five users on desktop browsers and iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, and it includes the ability to create shared folders. Quip Business costs $12 per user, per month for unlimited users and includes other features such as shared team workspaces, adding and removing users, and flagging external sharing. Quip Enterprise, whose price must be negotiated with Quip's sales team, adds more IT administration capabilities, such as single sign-on, usage stats and security features.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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